Canterbury farmers Hamish and Emma Irwin are thrilled to have scooped first and third place in two separate United Wheat Growers Awards categories after several years of entering. The third-generation farmers, who have three teenage children, own 245 hectares on the distinctive patchwork of the Canterbury Plains northwest of Ashburton.
A mixed cropping and store lamb fattening business, the farm is 90% irrigated, supplemented by leasing 20 hectares to grow potatoes, providing a risk-free return while being beneficial to the crop rotation. The award recognition was for the farm’s summer Discovery wheat harvest, with first place for its milling wheat which is supplied to Champion Flour Mill, Christchurch for bread, and third in the biscuit wheat category.
The wheat is assessed for its quality values including moisture, test weight, kernel weight, protein, falling number and screenings. Discovery is a high-yielding milling wheat cultivar bred in the United Kingdom and further developed by PGG Wrightson Grain in New Zealand and has been grown by the Irwins since 2014.
A mid-season, large grain, awnless (beardless) wheat with stiff straw and moderate resistance to pre-harvest sprouting, it is currently the highest-yielding spring-sown milling wheat option commercially available in New Zealand.
The Irwin’s wheat was harvested in “fantastic” conditions during Waitangi weekend. Seasonally, they grow about 60 to 80 hectares of wheat and a variety of other crops including 40 to 60 hectares of ryegrass for seed, feed and straw; radish for seed; spinach for seed; barley for seed and malting and oats.
The farm carries 3,800 to 4,500 store lambs during winter from mid-March with the oversight of a stock manager. “That’s a pretty intensive part of our farming calendar as well,” Hamish says.
“It keeps us busy all year round. We are planting forage crops before the last of the [other] crops are harvested in autumn; kale and rape and oats, and then we’ve got our ryegrass paddocks that have either just been harvested for seed, or in spring ones that have been planted the previous autumn.”
This operation is usually a significant contributor to the farm’s income, but this year, it is looking tough due to the plummeting lamb schedule prices which are reaching levels last seen in 2017 with some processors now paying as low as $6.50 a kilogram. Lambs are typically bought in the low 30-kilogram live weight range and grown to produce carcasses of 22kg to 24kg.
“They are big sheep, but we need that margin to make it work for us. We’re putting a lot of cost into the fattening of these lambs. Our climate’s good enough to do that.” Hamish describes the increasing costs of running a mixed farm such as theirs as “phenomenal,” even without any labour cost factored in.
“With higher than CPI (consumer price index) inflation over the past two years affecting key expenses such as fuel and fertiliser, plant repair and replacement it has been especially tough. Good food is expensive to produce. Here’s hoping for a sunny summer; we can control the water with irrigation but crops perform best with plenty of sun.”
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